Archive for November 5, 2009

How to Be Bully Smart — Yikes!

This 1995 video offers helpful advice for victims of bullying . . . if they wish to receive the beating of their lives.

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On a different note, I received some good news about Bystander. Based on a vote by independent booksellers from around the country, Bystander has been listed as one of 60 titles in their Winter 2009-2010 Kids Indie Next List“Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers.”

Here’s a brief excerpt from the letter sent by the folks at IndieBound to my publisher:

The Winter 2009-2010 Kid’s Indie Next List flyers will be distributed to all stores in the November Children’s White Box mailing, scheduled to ship the week of November 16th.  The announcement of the full Winter 2009-2010 Kid’s Indie Next List will appear in the November 12th edition of Bookselling This Week.

What does this mean? I have no idea. But for authors like me, struggling to make a mark in the hardcover world, it’s a drop-in-the-bucket business. Any review, any positive word of mouth, can only be seen as a positive thing. After all, we write these books not for ourselves, but to be read by others, anything that helps get the word out is appreciated.

I’m happy to share the honor with my Facebook pal, fellow Feiwel author, and all-around culture vulture, Julie Halpern, for her new book, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

Ever wonder, “Why shop indie?” Click and scroll down to find your answer.

Fan Mail Wednesday #67

Let’s get right to it . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,

I like your Jigsaw Jones books. My Mom and I have read them all.

I am in second grade. My teacher is Mrs. Brink. She is really pretty and nice.

I am telling my class about you and your books for a class project.

Here are some questions I have for you.

1. What is your favorite car?
Mine is a 1932 Model A

2. Would you pick baseball over skiing or flying paper airplanes?
Mine is a tie between skiing and paper airplanes

3. Who is your favorite president?
I like Ike, and Ronald Reagan.

4. Who is your favorite Noble Peace Prize winner?
I can not tell you yet, we are learning about them now.

5. Do you have pets?
My cat Sunny likes to hear me read your books to him.


Golden, CO

P.S. My Mom helped me write this letter 🙂

I replied:

Dear Jack,

Thanks for your letter. I enjoyed your description of Mrs. Brink, “pretty and nice.” I’m sure Jigsaw feels the same way about his teacher, Ms. Gleason. When I was growing up, I went to a Catholic elementary school. All my teachers were nuns who should have shaved more frequently. They were more scary than nice, or at least I felt so at the time.

Thank you for coming up with such an interesting set of questions. Definitely not the usual stuff.

1. Funny thing about cars: I don’t care about them. They just don’t matter to me. I drive a 2001 Toyota Corolla, happily. That said: a ’68 Ford Mustang convertible would be sweet.

2. Baseball, no question about it. I like cross-country skiing, not a big fan of the downhill kind. I mean, the hills are fine, but I do not like waiting on lines. I’d rather be in the snowy woods alone. My paper airplanes tend to crash to the floor after about three feet. I was never much good at paperwork; that’s why I became a writer.

3. I’m an Abraham Lincoln kind of guy. I remember reading about him when I was your age. I loved that he was a really good wrestler and that he sometimes kept important papers — in his hat!

4. My favorite Nobel Peace Prize winner? That’s a tough one. Honestly, I’m not that intimate with many of the past winners. I do like Barack Obama . . . Jimmy Carter . . . Nelson Mandela . . . Elie Wiesel . . . Mikhail Gorbachev . . . Lech Walesa . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . Albert Schweitzer. And, well, I’m pretty sure most of the other guys were okay, too,  though I was never too crazy about Henry Kissinger. The best of them fought for the little guy, equality for all, and that’s an idea I can get behind.

5. I have two black cats and a Golden Doodle named Daisy. Recently, my kids have decided that our dog should change the spelling of her name to Day-Z, after the rapper, Jay-Z, because we’re all loving the song, “Empire State of Mind.” We’re having trouble teaching her how to rhyme, however. She keeps asking, “What rhymes with woof?” I must add: you have a most excellent cat!

This is Daisy Day-Z. I’m trying to teach her how to hold a rake.

So far, she just chews on the handle. Sigh.

Good luck on your class report. I’m always amazed (and a little alarmed) to learn that I’ve become that thing I once disliked so intensely — homework! It’s sort of like waking up, looking in the mirror, and realizing that you’ve turned into a Brussels sprout!

Be sure to thank your mom for typing. I need one of those for my job. Are you willing to loan her out? My own mom is 83 and no longer types very fast. I had to fire her. “Hit the streets,” I kindly said. Hey, she wasn’t getting the job done. So congratulations on having such a swell mother. Good help is hard to find these days.


P.S. Don’t think I’m not an appreciative son. I did find my mom another job. She’s out raking the backyard yard as I type. I think I’ll keep her!

And So It Goes: Rereading Vonnegut, and a quote on semicolons

Listen: I’ve been on a little Vonnegut kick lately, and it’s been a happy time.

I just reread Breakfast of Champions, and I’m halfway into Cat’s Cradle, after tearing through this one, published posthumously:

While I’ve got you — as my father would say — take a gander at this photograph from the back of that book.

Wonderful, right? He was a true American Original.

I don’t know how Mr. Vonnegut is regarded in the ivory towers these days, though I do know there’s a large number of loyal fans that will always read and adore him. When he connects with a reader, it comes with a jolt. I’ve gotten my oldest boy to read a couple. Maybe more in the future. He can’t fend me off forever.

As I said before, Vonnegut was my version of YA back in the 70’s — along with guys like Steinbeck and Bradbury. And hey, remember that long-haired hippie, Richard Brautigan?!

My sister Jean, an avid reader, read all of Brautigan’s books and I borrowed them from her. Trout Fishing In America! The Springhill Mine Disaster! Revenge of the Lawn! The Abortion! It’s been years since I recalled those titles. Reading Brautigan’s breezy style possibly set my writing back ten years, or turned me into a writer, I can’t decide which. Maybe it was a combo offer: Turned me into a seriously flawed writer — but a writer nonetheless! And if that’s what’s in the case, Howie, I’ll take that deal.

There was something undeniably cool about the experience of reading Vonnegut and Brautigan, something authentic and accessible and fun. Dad wasn’t reading those guys, that’s for sure (come to think of it, Dad wasn’t reading at all — but that’s a problem for another day). Vonnegut and Brautigan, and why not, let’s throw in the Beat Writers before them, had attitude, a combination of cynicism and idealism, as opposed to today’s more common brand of empty cynicism, minus the hope. Their ideology seemed to matter a lot more than semicolons. They took literature, blew off the dust, and passed it along to me, a lousy teenager. Reading those fast, easy books gave me the idea that maybe I could do it. Write a poem or a short-short story. Take a look around and maybe assess things a little.

By the way, I looked like this around that time, 7th-8th grade:

Here’s me and my brother John, probably five years later (and yes, I’m wearing a macrame belt):

I think what’s happening between Vonnegut and me is that I’m currently writing a new book for older readers, a notch above Bystander. So I’m remembering being 15, 16 years old. The things we did. How it felt. And somehow Vonnegut so perfectly captures those essential youthful feelings. Not that there was intentionality to my selection. I didn’t go to him as a conjurer. I just stumbled upon old Kurt in a couple of bookstores and, for the first time in 30 years, thought, Now feels right.

Part of it is the counter-culture current that runs through everything both men wrote. Their freedom, independence, iconoclastic proclivities. All I can say is: I totally identify with that, growing up in suburbia at the time I did, with a brother off in Vietnam, another constantly smoking a pipe in the back bedroom while banging away on a typewriter, listening to Dylan and trying to write a book on James Joyce, a time of Nixon and Watergate, then Belushi and Radner on “Saturday Night Live” exposing our absurdities . . .

I’m rambling, forgive me. Usually I try to have something coherent to say.

Oh, yes, I remember why I began this entry in the first place! Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about semicolons in Armageddon In Retrospect:

My advice to writers just starting out? Don’t use semicolons! They are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college.

Music Video Weekend: Rosanne Cash, “500 Miles”

“Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four, Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home.”

When Rosanne Cash was in high school, her father, Johnny, handed her a list of “100 Essential Country Songs.” More than thirty years later, she recorded twelve of those songs for the 2009 album titled, “The List.”

You can read more about it here, where it is also streaming live.

Johnny was right. This is a great song, and Rosanne makes it her own. I think you should own it!

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